My postpartum journey is a vulnerable topic for me and something I still think about 12 months into motherhood. While I wasn’t clinically depressed or diagnosed with a postpartum mood disorder, I was quickly swept into the post-partum funk and baby blues that new moms learn about only AFTER giving birth – the guilt, the anxiety, the what-ifs, and endless spiral of doubts.
I cried every day for months – not all day, but every day. I dreaded my husband coming home because I knew the rush of emotions from the day would quickly come in tears, and I didn’t want him to see me like that, especially after a hard day of working.
I don’t know why I cried. I generally felt happy and wholesome. I was grieving my birth and the unexpected direction it went. Maybe it was the hormones or extreme exhaustion. I was contemplating staying home with my baby, which caused additional stress. Maybe it was a subconsciously perceived sense of loneliness. Or perhaps it was just the abrupt change of my life and my husband’s.
Daniel and I talked for months about how our lives would change, individually and collectively. We have always been such a good team and have magically formed a great partnership. We respect each other’s space and time to ourselves, but also love being together. We often encourage each other to go out for a guy’s/girl’s night. But, we both agree that any time extra time we have, we prefer to spend together.
When Baby R was born, it took a lot of effort to make time for us – through my cesarean recovery, the sleepless nights, extra laundry, and newborn haze. But, I was determined. We built our relationship on open communication and caring for one another. Daniel took such good care of me and Baby R. When I broke down in the evenings – every day for months – he embraced me, listened, and reassured my doubts. All the while, he ran errands, cooked dinner, cleaned dishes, brought me food, made sure I always had water. He even made me waffles on his birthday, a week after Baby R was born. While I was recovering from my cesarean, nursing, and cluster feeding at night, I felt like there wasn’t much I could do for him.
He was so patient and willing. I’ve never been the kind of person to accept help, maybe because I’ve never known what it was like to truly need help. And I’m stubborn. I had to learn to give in to him. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to function and care for Baby R like I needed to as a tiny infant. If I hadn’t had him, I definitely would have hired a doula.
When Baby R was around a month old, I started putting her to bed at 8o’clock. Before then, she slept in her DockATot on the couch until we all went to bed at 9 (we were exhausted). And while it took two entire months for me to completely heal from my birth and cesarean, Daniel and I took the time at night to be us – to hold hands, share snacks, and rewatch our favorite shows on Netflix.
It took months – eight months – for me to feel like myself again and even longer to have the energy to become myself again.
Who was this new me, anyway? A mom? A stay-at-home mom? A wife? What about Rhea? What was my new identity? Could I ever be anything other than mom?
Don’t misunderstand me. I was eager and excited to take on the role as mom. I’m excellent at multitasking, love cooking, and am graced with patience and a listening ear. But eight months down the road, I began wondering who I was anymore.
Dana Raphael coined the term matrescence in the 1970s. It’s a term used to describe the changing hormones and development that is becoming a mom. Much like a teenager experiences mood swings and drastic physical and emotional changes, a mother experiences a rush of emotions from only somewhat familiar hormones. It takes time for her to adjust to her new body, life, relationships, and sense of self.
With all the changes, the matrescence, the emotions, it’s difficult to come out of the postpartum funk – whether it be subtle baby blues, depression, or psychosis. Sometimes it takes months for hormones to balance, especially if you’re breastfeeding. At such a critical time in a woman’s life, she needs a support person. And I personally felt horrible that my husband was doing so much for me when he was adjusting to this new life and new role as a father, too. But, our family was far away and I didn’t know of any resources during the early stages of parenthood.
Why – during all the prenatal visits, the baby showers, the advice and encouragement – why don’t we talk about the postpartum experience? Why don’t doctors, friends, family, and neighbors open up about their postpartum journeys? They are happy to share their birth stories and things you need to know as a new mom. Knowing what to expect postpartum, the baby blues and hormonal imbalances is equally as important as stories of long labors, tearing, and risks at birth.
Why don’t we talk about it? Are there thousands of new moms sitting at home with no one they feel they can talk to without being judged? That’s the key – new moms need an unbiased support person who will listen, be non judgemental, and offer assistance if asked. It seems like most of the time, moms just need to know that they aren’t alone in their feelings.
Around the world
In Mothering the New Mother, Sally Placksin discusses women’s experiences postpartum in other countries. Traditionally in most other countries, new moms do nothing but care for their infant. Family members and neighbors are expected to support the new mom by cooking for her, caring for her, and giving her space to bond and provide for her baby. While the postpartum period differs from region to region, the average amount of time it takes a mom to recover from birth and start life on her own is forty days. Families and friends give moms forty days to stay at home, nurse their babies, and be cared for by others.
Placksin notes several other similarities between countries:
• New moms breastfeed their babies and are offered lots of help to make it successful.
• Moms are given soups to eat, which is thought to increase milk supply and provide nutrients.
• New moms aren’t to go outside or get wet – no submerged baths for almost 2 months!
• Most moms remain in bed for several weeks, which enables them to recover and establish a strong nursing routine.
• Rates of postpartum depression are very low.
If new mothers everywhere were treated with respect, reassured, and cared for, then maybe rates of PPD would decrease everywhere.
Why do mothers in the US feel they have to do it alone? Why are they scared to talk about their feelings? The postpartum period needs to be a part of the conversation from healthcare providers, friends, and family members.
If you’re reading this as a new mother and wondering why you feel the way you do, know that you aren’t alone.
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